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Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe [jointly edited with Stephen Kotkin] Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press [forthcoming, 2014].

This book takes stock of arguments about the historical legacies of communism that have become common within the study of Russia and East Europe more than two decades after communism’s demise and elaborates an empirical approach to the study of historical legacies revolving around relationships and mechanisms rather than correlation and outward similarities.  Eleven essays by a distinguished group of scholars assess whether post-communist developments in specific areas continue to be shaped by the experience of communism, or alternatively by fundamental divergences produced before or after communism.  Chapters deal with the variable impact of the communist experience on post-communist societies in such areas as:  regime trajectories and democratic political values; patterns of regional and sectoral economic development; property ownership within the energy sector; the functioning of the executive branch of government, the police, and courts; the relationship of religion to the state; government language policies; and informal relationships and practices.

Contributors:   Stephen Kotkin, Mark R. Beissinger, Grigore Pop-Eleches, Clifford Gaddy, Béla Greskovits, Timothy Frye, Eugene Huskey, Brian Taylor, Alexei Trochev, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Volodomyr Kulyk, Jessica Pisano


Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) [Comparative Politics Series]. 

This study examines the process by which the seemingly impossible in 1987--the disintegration of the Soviet Union--became the seemingly inevitable by 1991, providing an original interpretation not only of the Soviet collapse, but also of the phenomenon of nationalism more generally. Probing the role of nationalist action as both cause and effect, Beissinger utilizes extensive event data and detailed case studies from across the USSR during its final years to elicit the shifting relationship between pre-existing structural conditions, institutional constraints, and event-generated influences in the massive nationalist explosions that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.  As Beissinger demonstrates, the "tidal" context of nationalism--that is, the transnational influence of one nationalism upon another--is critical to an explanation of the success and failure of particular nationalisms, the ability of governments to repress nationalist challenges, why some nationalisms turn violent, and how a mounting crescendo of events can potentially overwhelm states, periodically evoking large-scale structural change in the character of the state system. 

Winner of the 2003 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, presented by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in the United States on government, politics, or international affairs [Click here for citation]; Winner of the 2003 Mattei Dogan Award, presented by the Society for Comparative Research for the best book published in the field of comparative research [Click here for citation]; Winner of the 2003 Award for Best Book on European Politics, presented by the Organized Section on European Politics and Society of the American Political Science Association.

“What an achievement!  Mark Beissinger spins a steely web from individual local events to nationwide processes and back, shows us how particular strands work within that web, then calls our attention to undulations in the web as a whole.  He contributes simultaneously to understanding the Soviet collapse and clarifying the dynamics of post-Soviet nationalism.”  Charles Tilly, Columbia University.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that Beissinger’s study will quickly become the book for social scientists to read on nationalism and nationalist movements.” Valerie Bunce, Cornell University.


Beyond State Crisis? Postcolonial Africa and Post-Soviet Eurasia in Comparative Perspective [jointly edited with Crawford Young] (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). book studies two world regions beset with extreme corruption, organized crime extending into warlordism, the disintegration of human services and economic institutions, and the breakdown of public institutions and the state. The contributors compare processes of state breakdown and collapse in the two world regions, as well as democratization, economic reform, ethnicity, and the status of women, comparing the consequences of post-communism with those of post-colonialism. 

Contributors:  Mark R. Beissinger, Crawford Young, Achille Mbembe, Vadim Volkov, William Reno, Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr., David Holloway, Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, Lilia Shevtsova, Richard Joseph, Peter J. Stavrakis, Peter M. Lewis, Gail W. Lapidus, Francis M. Deng, Aili Mari Tripp, Ghia Nodia

"This is a serious and important book that makes a contribution to our understanding of state effectiveness, state breakdown, and violence in Africa and Eurasia. The comparison between the two broad regions is creatively handled and introduced. The individual chapters, all by prominent experts in their fields, are based on solid research and offer insights that are original and of considerable policy importance. If you want to know how weak states work-or don't work-this book is essential reading."  Charles King, Georgetown University.

"[Beyond State Crisis?] will most certainly become a classic of comparative politics."  Benjamin Neuberger, Open University of Israel.


The Nationalities Factor in Soviet Politics and Society [jointly edited with Lubomyr Hajda] (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990). myriad nationalities of the Soviet Union were a key factor in the demise of the Soviet state. Despite official claims that the nationalities problem was solved, the repressed demands of the diverse Soviet peoples found vehement expression under the stimulus of Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. The revival of nationalism and growing ethnic tensions posed a critical challenge to the Soviet leadership, raising questions about the viability of the system itself. In this volume, leading scholars examined the policy implications of the nationalities factor, surveyed developments in the non-Russian republics, and assessed the political and social ramifications of a volatile issue that posed perhaps the stiffest challenge to the success of Gorbachev's reform efforts.

Contributors:  Roman Szporluk, Steven L. Burg, Gertrude E. Schroeder, Teresa Rakowska-Harmstone, Barbara A. Anderson, Brian D. Silver, Paul A. Goble, Bohdan R. Bociurkiw, Roman Solchanyk, Romuald J. Misiunas, Ronald Grigor Suny, Martha Brill Olcott, Dina Rome Spechler, Mark Beissinger, Lubomyr Hajda

“This superb volume draws upon the contributions of an outstanding array of authors to provide the reader with an authoritative overview of cultural pluralism in the Soviet Union.  The momentous transformations unleashed by the glasnost’ and perestroika campaigns associated with the Gorbachev era have illuminated the dilemmas of preservation of the would-be socialist commonwealth whose genesis as an empire-state has been stripped naked by recent events.  This timely volume provides the indispensable analytical base for grasping the breathtaking metamorphosis in course.”  M. Crawford Young. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The rapid pace of change has quickly made obsolete much recent writing on Soviet foreign and domestic policy, but this book is an impressive exception.  Though its authors could not have anticipated the recent disintegration of the multinational state, every chapter contributes significantly to understanding the background and causes of that process and its likely outcome. . . . One would be hard-pressed to name a single volume that is more informative about the past, present, and future of the Soviet Union and its successor states.”  Herbert Ellison, University of Washington.


Scientific Management, Socialist Discipline, and Soviet Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). organizational theory as its frame, this book traces the rise and decline of competing administrative strategies throughout the course of Soviet history, focusing on the roles of managerial technique and disciplinary coercion.  Tracing Soviet attempts to borrow Western management ideas from Lenin to Andropov, it shows how administrative cycling—rather than increased efficiency—characterized Soviet efforts to deal with the organizational challenges of over-bureaucratization associated with a centrally planned economy, leading repeatedly to coercive responses in an effort to push change from above--and eventually to Gorbachev’s efforts to transcend this dynamic through market reform.

“Beissinger’s work will take its place alongside those of Fainsod, Azrael, Parrott, and other major writers on Soviet ideology and organizational behavior.  Its combination of general observations on Soviet organizational and bureaucratic behavior and detailed, descriptive case studies is very effective, and the reader, even the nonspecialist, will find great value in it.”  Roger Hamburg, Indiana University.

“This is a well-argued study which takes as its central theme the consequences of over-bureaucratization under central planning.  Despite a ubiquitous concern in Soviet studies with problems of bureaucracy, it is notable how little research on Soviet politics has used insights from organization theory as a framework for analysis.  Beissinger’s book tried to make up for this, and does a good job.”  Nick Lampert, University of Birmingham.



Articles and book chapters


"Explaining Divergent Revolutionary Coalitions: Regime Strategies and the Structuring of Participation in the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions" [jointly authored with Amaney Jamal and Kevin Mazur] Comparative Politics 48, 1 (October 2015). [Click here for article in .pdf format]

This study seeks to explain why the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions mobilized different constituencies. Using original survey data, we establish that while participants in both revolutions prioritized economic concerns and corruption over civil and political freedoms, Tunisian revolutionaries were significantly younger and more diverse in class composition than the predominantly middle-aged and middle-class participants in the Egyptian Revolution. Tunisian revolutionaries were also less likely to be members of civil society associations and more likely to rely on the internet as their source of information during the revolution. We explain these differences by reference to disparate incumbent regime strategies for coping with similar structural pressures for state contraction and political reform, which created different patterns of societal grievance and opposition mobilizing structures in their wake.


"Self-Determination as a Technology of Imperialism: The Soviet and Russian Experiences," Ethnopolitics 15, 5 (2015), pp. 479-487. [Click here for article in .pdf format]

Self-determination is widely understood as an anti-imperial norm responsible in significant part for the global break-up of empires. But self-determination norms have been utilized as well to justify Great Power territorial expansion. This essay examines the ways in which self-determination norms have been wielded by the Soviet Union and Russia to justify overriding sovereignty norms, challenge the territorial integrity of weaker states, and rationalize an expansion of power and influence—despite opposition by a majority of inhabitants of the affected areas, the conflicting self-determination claims of indigenous populations, massive Russian settler colonization, and the opinions of the international community.


“An End to Patience? The 2008 Global Financial Crisis and Political Protest in Eastern Europe” [jointly authored with Gwendolyn Sasse], in Larry Bartels and Nancy Bermeo, eds., Popular Reactions to the Great Recession [Oxford University Press, 2014] (published earlier in Nuffield College Working Papers in Politics, no. 2012-01 (28 April 2012). [Click here for chapter in .pdf format]

Based on an event analysis of 967 protest events, this paper explores the dynamics of economic protest across 18 countries in Eastern Europe in the context of the Great Recession. While the initial period of post-communist transition in the 1990s has been characterized as one of "patience" and quiescence, the 2008 economic crisis called this pattern into question, altering the level and nature of economic protest in the region. But there was considerable variation across the post-communist countries experiencing significant economic contraction. The countries that proved most vulnerable to high levels of economic protest were those that had been in the forefront of reform in the 1990s. They exhibited high levels of dependence on the global economy, and the transition and EU integration process generated public expectations about improving living standards that were dashed during the crisis. A number of other factors shaped protest responses among those states that experienced economic contraction: 1) levels of public sector employment; 2) IMF rescue packages; 3) public trust in government in the run-up to the crisis; and 4) political party mobilization. The essay further illustrates the causal processes underlying differential patterns of protest through paired comparisons of Latvia and Estonia on the one hand and Hungary and Ukraine on the other.


“The Semblance of Democratic Revolution: Coalitions in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution,” American Political Science Review, vol. 107, no. 3 (August 2013), pp. 574-592.  [Click here for article in .pdf format]

Using two unusual surveys, this study analyzes participation in the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, comparing participants with revolution supporters, opponents, counter-revolutionaries, and the apathetic/inactive. As the analysis shows, most revolutionaries were weakly committed to the revolution’s democratic master narrative, and the revolution’s spectacular mobilizational success was largely due to its mobilization of cultural cleavages and symbolic capital to construct a negative coalition across diverse policy groupings. A contrast is drawn between urban civic revolutions like the Orange Revolution and protracted peasant revolutions. The strategies associated with these revolutionary models affect the roles of revolutionary organization and selective incentives and the character of revolutionary coalitions. As the comparison suggests, postrevolutionary instability may be built into urban civic revolutions due to their reliance on a rapidly convened negative coalition of hundreds of thousands, distinguished by fractured elites, lack of consensus over fundamental policy issues, and weak commitment to democratic ends.


“Russian Civil Societies, Conventional and Virtual,” Taiwan Journal of Democracy 8, 2 (December 2012), pp. 91-104. [Click here for article in .pdf format]

Recent developments in Russian politics present a challenge to the traditional understanding of civil society. In hybrid regimes like Russia, conventional civil society is often weak. But as recent events in Russia demonstrate, with the rise of the Internet, “virtual” civil society-fostered through dense networks of online interaction-may function as a substitute, providing the basis for civic activism even in the presence of an anemic conventional civil society. This mixture of weak conventional civil society and robust “virtual” civil society imparts a particular dynamic to state-society relations within hybrid regimes in the Internet age. As this essay demonstrates, “virtual” civil society breeds weak political organization and a false sense of representativeness within political oppositions, at the same time as injecting a greater degree of volatility into politics and presenting incumbent regimes with particular challenges for repression.


"Mechanisms of Maidan: The Structure of Contingency in the Making of the Orange Revolution," Mobilization: An International Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 1 (March 2011), p. 25-43. [Click here for article in .pdf format]

This study evaluates the validity and causal weight of competing mechanisms that purport to explain a single set of choices (and a critical turning point) within a contentious episode: the decision to participate in the Orange Revolution protests in Ukraine in November 2004. These protests were characterized by extraordinarily high levels of participation, despite freezing temperatures and the threat of violence. Using evidence from public-opinion surveys and eyewitness accounts, the study shows how causal processes unfolded and accumulated at several levels (structural, conjunctural, and endogenous). Overall, participation represented more of a short-term fluctuation than a general shift in societal values and behaviors, was fueled more by a long train of abuses than by suddenly imposed grievances, and was aided by a robust form of electoral campaigning. Events functioned as occasions for crafting together a diverse coalition of participants motivated by a variety of concerns--national, economic, and civic.


"Nationalism and the Collapse of Soviet Communism," Journal of Contemporary European History 18, 3 (2009), pp. 331-347 [click here for article in .pdf format]

This article examines the role of nationalism in the collapse of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, arguing that nationalism (both in its presence and its absence, and in the various conflicts and disorders that it unleashed) played an important role in structuring the way in which communism collapsed. Two institutions of international and cultural control in particular--the Warsaw Pact and ethnofederalism--played key roles in determining which communist regimes failed and which survived. The article argues that the collapse of communism was not a series of isolated, individual national stories of resistance but a set of interrelated streams of activity in which action in one context profoundly affected action in other contexts--part of a larger tide of assertions of national sovereignty that swept through the Soviet empire during this period.


"A New Look at Ethnicity and Democratization," Journal of Democracy, vol. 19, no. 3 (July 2008), pp. 85-97. [Click here for article in .pdf format]

The third wave of democratization became the occasion for sharpening the engagement between ethnic identity and democracy, as democratization spread to countries that were much more fragmented along cultural lines than was true of early democratizers. Three sets of issues in particular were brought onto the agenda: whether ethnic diversity in and of itself represents a powerful obstacle to building stable democracies; whether strong ethnic identities are detrimental to the democratization process; and the causal paths by which ethnic identities are implicated in democratization and de-democratization processes. This essay examines these questions in light of the post-Soviet region, making three arguments. First, ethnic diversity is a relatively weak explanation of democratic development on its own, but ethnicity rather exercises its effects on democratization through its interaction with other factors that affect democratic development. Second, the impact of ethnicity on democratization flows through processes of ethnic mobilization, which are not a function of diversity per se, but rather revolve around how democratization affects the interests of minorities and the capacities of challenging groups. And third, ethnic nationalism is not necessarily incompatible with democracy, but rather depends on the types of objects against which ethnic groups mobilize, so that strong ethnic passions can form the basis for a mobilized path to democracy when ethnic nationalism is focused against foreign domination rather than against other ethnic groups.


"Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of the Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions," Perspectives on Politics, vol. 5, no. 2 (June 2007), pp. 259-276. [Click here for article in .pdf format]

This article develops an approach to the study of modular political phenomena (action based in significant part on emulation of the prior successful example of others), focusing on the trade-offs between the influence of example, structural facilitation, and institutional constraints. The approach is illustrated through the example of the spread of democratic revolution in the post-communist region during the 2000-2006 period, with significant comparisons to the diffusion of separatist nationalism in the Soviet Union during the glasnost' era. Two models by which modular processes unfold are specified: an elite defection model and an elite learning model. In both models the power of example is shown to exert an independent effect on outcomes, although the effect is considerably deeper in the former than in the latter case. The elite defection model corresponds to the institutional responses to separatist nationalism under glasnost', while the elite learning model describes well the processes involved in the spread of modular democratic revolution among the later risers in the post-communist region, limiting the likelihood of further revolutionary successes. The article concludes with some thoughts about the implications of the power of example for the study of modular phenomena such as democratization, nationalism, and revolution.


"The Persistence of Empire in Eurasia," Presidential Address to the 39th National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, November 17, 2007 [published in NewsNet, vol. 48, no. 1 (January 2008), pp. 1-8; also published in Russian in Ab Imperio, no. 1, 2008, pp. 157-176]. [Click here for address in .pdf format] [Click here for Russian-language version]

This presidential address takes as its starting point two ironies of contemporary Russian history. The first is that the self-avowed and self-consciously imperial Tsarist state was followed by a Soviet state that sought to convince its citizens and the world that it was not imperial, but that ultimately died widely construed as an empire and is routinely referred to as such today. A second irony is that, despite its assertions to the contrary, the post-Soviet Russian state that was founded in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire is still often construed as imperial. The essay does not seek to answer whether empire is an apt analytical model for the Soviet Union or for contemporary Russia. Rather, it contemplates empire as a persisting practical category of politics in the Eurasian region. It is a social fact that fear of, aspirations to, memory of, and longing for empire remain widespread throughout the Eurasian region and continue to shape the region's culture and politics, begging explanation. The address seeks to probe the questions of what makes people understand power as imperial in a world in which empires no longer exist, what types of acts do authorities engage in that become labeled as imperial, and how have these changed over time.


"Rethinking Empire in the Wake of Soviet Collapse," in Zoltan Barany and Robert Moser, eds., Ethnic Politics and Post-Communism: Theories and Practice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005).  [Click here for chapter in .pdf format]

This essay explores how the collapse of the Soviet Union alters or confirms existing theories about empires. As it argues, the most important element of the Soviet collapse for theories of empires was the very fact that the Soviet Union was labeled an empire in the first place. Using the Soviet example, the essay examines some of the ways in which contemporary empires differ from empires of the past, showing that the boundaries between multinational states and multinational empires and between regional or global hegemons and informal empires are more fluid and contested than most theories of empire admit, that claims to nationhood and national self-assertion are central to the process by which contemporary states become empires, and that the structure of nonconsensual control that theories of empire have traditionally emphasized is not a given but rather emerges through an interaction between political practice and oppositional politics. The essay also explores the ways in which norms of sovereignty and self-determination can be used as instruments of control, further blurring the line between empire and nation-state, and the role that resistance plays in the making of empires. The essay concludes with an examination of the difficulties that post-Soviet Russia has had in shedding its imperial persona, placing this in comparative perspective.


Unpublished papers

“’Conventional’ and ‘Virtual’ Civil Societies in Autocratic Regimes,” paper presented at the 20th International Conference of Europeanists, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 25‐27, 2013 (forthcoming in Comparative Politics).  [Click here for paper in .pdf format]

In many autocratic regimes “conventional” civil society (i.e., the field of formal civil society associations based on face-to-face networks) is often weak for several reasons: autocrats fear the challenges that “conventional” civil society organizations present to their hegemony and repress them; past autocratic rule usually leaves stunted civil society development in its wake; and formal organizations based on face-to-face relations are relatively easy for autocratic regimes to identify, regulate, and target for repression. However, over the last five years the rise of digital media in a number of middle‐income societies ruled by autocratic regimes has provided a new basis for civic activism, even in the presence of an anemic “conventional” civil society. This paper explores the political implications of this mixture of weak “conventional” civil society and robust “virtual” civil society. Specifically, it argues that a situation of robust “virtual” civil society in the presence of weak “conventional” civil society injects a high degree of volatility into politics and presents autocratic regimes with new challenges on the street, at the same time as reinforcing weak political organization, fostering a false sense of representativeness among political oppositions, and fragmenting collective identities. Oppositions organized in this fashion tend to remain highly fractured, lack the organizational capacity to negotiate with incumbents, and have difficulty making the transition to electoral contention.




"Mass Demonstrations and Mass Violent Events in the Former USSR, 1987-1992."

These event databases, which were used for the analysis in my book Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State, contain information on 6,663 protest demonstrations and 2,177 mass violent events across the entire territory of the former Soviet Union from January 1987 through December 1992. The databases were constructed on the basis of press reports from over 150 different news sources--sixty of which were examined in their full press runs during the period under investigation (For a full listing of sources consulted, see the codebook that accompanies the files).

All data are compressed in PKZIP files. When extracted, the codebook is in Word format and the databases are in Excel format. 

Data disaggregated at the event level: Click here to download PKZIP file ( containing codebook and two event databases (one for mass demonstrations, one for mass violent events)

Data aggregated by nationality: Click here to download PKZIP file ( containing codebook and database (aggregated by nationality)


"Revolutionary Episodes, 1900-2014"

This dataset provides information on 345 revolutionary episodes from 1900-2014. It is still in the process of construction. Click here for a description of the fields being coded.